Jennifer Obidike is an American writer living in London. Over the past seven years, she has been involved in numerous reading and editorial projects including work as an editorial assistant for a children’s novelist published with Macmillan. She has read submissions for various prizes and journals including 3:AM Magazine and Flight Journal, as well as the London Short Story Festival Prize.
She has a Master's degree in Creative Writing from the New School, a New York University, where she provided feedback and mentoring as a university teaching assistant. She also has a Bachelor's degree in English Literature and Women's Studies from the University of Michigan.
In 2015, she became one of three associates in a yearlong publishing apprenticeship scheme with Spread the Word, London's writing development agency. She currently volunteers at the Royal Society of Literature.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Aliya Gulamani over at Spread the Word about 'Let Me Read For You'. Check out the interview here or read the full text below.
‘Let Me Read For You’ looks like an fantastic venture – tell me what inspired you to launch your own writing services and the process of setting that up?
Hello Aliya, thank you so much for having me!
Many writers I’ve worked with over the years have encouraged me to set up my own little business but I always lacked the confidence to do so. Now that I’m 33 and in my ‘Jesus Year’ (supposedly a time of rebirth and clarity), I thought, why not give it a go? I’ve spent most of my life writing and have participated in numerous classes and workshops analysing the work of others. I went on to do an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at the New School in New York and studied English Literature before that. Now, I work part-time as an editorial assistant for a children’s novelist published with Macmillan, and I’ve been learning a lot about commercial publishing (and the art of writing a novel) through a writer’s point-of-view. Clearly, I cannot escape this world, and I would never want to!
I’m a bit of nerd (and unabashedly so) when it comes to developmental editing. I really make it my business to be thorough. I’ve worked with people who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves writers and I’ve worked with people who do call themselves writers and have books published. Throughout my work, I realised whether you’re a veteran or a novice, we all need reassurance, someone who can get behind our ideas and help develop our work in a constructive way. I wanted to offer a service that was personable and intimate but still very professional.
You offer two services – Writing Coach and Developmental Editing. Can you tell me a bit more about what they entail, and which writers should be applying for which service?
The Writing Coach service is for writers who feel they need more daily or weekly support putting a larger work together. Anyone interested in this service will probably have something to say but not enough time in their day to day, or enough confidence or drive, to say it and put it all down in a determined way. This service would be for writers beginning their practice or those in the middle of their practice, who need more help with time management and motivation. I see this service as more involved and nurturing, as building a relationship over a period of time that centres around putting a whole book together. I also see this service as adapting to the model of commercial publishing, working with new writers (or writers who put their practice on the back burner), to develop a draft steadily within (ideally) six months to a year. The writer and I would sit down to create an action plan, mapping out deadlines and goals for the period of time chosen to work together. We meet regularly and have constant contact with each other throughout this time. The writer is also required to write everyday, if not several times a week, which I think is the most important element of the process.
The Developmental Editing service would be for writers who have existing material in need of an appraisal. It’s for writers who feel ready to take a step back from their work, entrusting it with an editor who can help them see what’s happening on a micro and macro level. A developmental edit looks at the inner workings of a manuscript (character development, plot, voice, word choice, etc.) and provides suggestions on how to move forward. The edits start with line to line commentary and then mushroom into a summary of general observations and themes, offering multiple ways forward for the next round of revisions.
What kind of writing are you looking to read? Is there a particular genre or themes that excite you?
I read widely and enjoy all sorts of literature from fiction to creative non-fiction to poetry. I’m interested in reading novels, short story and poetry collections, and children’s novels ages 10 and up, particularly featuring female heroines. Children’s literature can be potent and all encompassing, and I miss that feeling as a reader. My work with the children’s novelist has really reminded me of that. I also love lyrical writing and work blending genres such as fiction and poetry hybrids.
From your knowledge of the different writing services out there, what is it about your particular service that you think people will find valuable?
The emotional support that comes from a more personable and intimate service. I hope people feel our time together is collaborative, where both the editor and the writer open up to each other around a passion for the written word. I also hope people feel challenged by my edits or my coaching services, but in a way that allows them to tackle the work with joy. Both services allow writers to meet with me in person to discuss their work or to speak with me over the phone, if meeting in-person isn’t possible.
I also plan to be more involved with up-and-coming writers of all ages and abilities, either through the biweekly writing group I host at Hatch, Homerton, or through other endeavours like a poetry/open mic night I hope to curate early next year 2019.
How does ‘Let Me Read For You’ fit into your everyday job as an editorial assistant for a children’s novelist, published with Macmillan?
It’s been an eye-opening experience working for someone employed with a big publisher and someone who’s published numerous books, one of which was a bestseller several years ago. It’s not every day that you get to sit in writer’s home and talk plots, or see how a writer works, or watch a whole book come together and grow from draft to draft. I’ve been able to see what it takes to get a whole manuscript down in about a year at the request of the publisher. I’ve seen chapters coming together, and the reworking of chapters, and how the whole process builds and builds. My work with the children’s writer has been such a rare experience. My Writing Coach service was very much inspired by my editorial work for her. My developmental editing has also improved, particularly around longer manuscripts.
And finally, Jennifer, as a writer yourself – what impact do you think your new venture will have on your own creative work?
It’s humbling collaborating with other writers. I think that sense of kinship enables you to believe in yourself. Both of my services will allow me to talk with and work actively with other writers of all different experiences and abilities. My own writing has shifted over the past year. I spent almost ten years focusing on fiction and there are aspects of fiction I love, such as developing characters and dialogue, but I decided this year my lyricism was best channelled through poetry, which I’d abandoned for fiction because it was seen as more ‘profitable’ or ‘commercial’. My new venture wants to move away from the business of publishing and wants to just work with writers for the sake of the writing, and if publishing happens, wonderful; I just don’t think it should be the end all and be all.